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Eating Right for Moms

Ingredient #6: High-potency Nutritional Supplements
Why: Certainly, the best sources of nutrients are usually fresh, whole, organic foods. But in real life, not some textbook, most mothers rely on quick snacks, meals on the run, and processed foods that lack even the Daily Values (DVs) of all the nutrients they need. Almost all women have some catching up to do since they already have significant nutritional deficits when they start their first pregnancy. It takes many months, and often years, of taking supplements to restore healthy levels of nutrients (especially minerals) to a run-down body.

Plus, we think you need more than the DVs, anyway! Growing and nursing a baby, as well as the hard work and stresses of raising a family, use up large quantities of nutrients. Building up reserves in your body is also a wise stockpile for future times of high stress or poor nutrition. And by their nature, micronutrients assist bodily processes in going well. These molecular helping hands may thus help protect a vulnerable mother from the widespread artificial chemicals that tend to make things go badly.

Further, the DVs are the minimum necessary to prevent diseases of nutritional deficiency, not necessarily what promotes long-term health and well-being. For example, the amount of vitamin C that prevents scurvy is less than that which brings the greatest cardiovascular health across a lifetime. A growing body of research has substantiated the benefits of above-DV levels of various nutrients for gastrointestinal dysfunction, depression, hormonal disturbances, and autoimmune diseases - for which women have an increased risk after children. (Of course, supplements are no substitute for a balanced diet or medical care.)

Finally, the risks of supplements are very low. If you stay within the range of the MSDVs presented in appendix D, about the worst thing that can happen is that your body will excrete any unused nutrients; those particular molecules will have been unnecessary, but since it is difficult to know exactly which nutrients will be fully absorbed and which won't, the money spent on supplements is a kind of insurance policy to give yourself the best odds, year after year, of filling the larder of your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

How:

  • Unless your doctor has instructed you otherwise due to a medical problem, take multi-vitamin, multi-mineral supplements. (Do not take more than 5000 IU of vitamin A if you are pregnant, planning to get pregnant in the next couple of months, or capable of conception (i.e., having sex without contraception.)
  • Your prenatal vitamin/mineral supplements may be all you need, but check the labels; many have levels of important nutrients that are too low. Health food stores usually carry several brands of high-quality "multis" that meet most or all of our MSDVs. Whether you're taking an everyday multi or a more exotic nutrient, always be sure to get supplements with guaranteed purity and potency from reputable companies.
  • Use a supplement whose minerals are chelated, which aids absorption. This is indicated when the name of the mineral is followed by a word ending in -ate, such as citrate, aspenate, malate, gluconate, or picolate. (Chelated minerals are also usually a sign of a quality product; magnesium oxide, for instance, is cheap to manufacture, but it's not absorbed as well.) For iron, look for ferrous - not ferric - sulfate, fumorare, or gluconate.
  • You will probably need to add calcium and magnesium to even the best multi in order to get the amounts of these minerals that you need.
  • You may also want to take an additional B complex supplement. All the B vitamins help people deal with stress. For example, B5 enables the body to make adrenal hormones. Vitamin B6 helps balance the endocrine system; this vitamin often helps with PMS, morning sickness, and depression.
  • If you are breast-feeding or have weaned your child in the past year, we suggest taking 500 mg of the amino acid taurine with your breakfast. (This is the exception to our general recommendation that you take no amino acid supplements if you are breastfeeding or pregnant, unless you've been otherwise instructed by a licensed health professional.) An infant is not yet able to make taurine, so it is drained from a mother's body if she is not getting enough in her diet. Taurine helps maintain proper mineral levels within your body's cells - particularly of magnesium, which is necessary for sleep, relaxation, and vitality.
  • Expect to take a handful of pills each day, since there is no way that all the micronutrients you need can fit into a single supplement smaller than a hefty marble. It takes less time than brushing your teeth, and it's arguably more important for your overall health in the long run.


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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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